Washington, D.C. — Regardless of their views about the legality of abortion, most Americans think that having an abortion is a moral issue, according to a new survey analysis by the Pew Research Center. By contrast, the public is much less likely to see other issues involving human embryos – such as stem cell research or in vitro fertilization – as a matter of morality.
Asked whether abortion is morally acceptable, morally wrong or not a moral issue, only about a quarter of U.S. adults (23%) say they personally do not consider having an abortion to be a moral issue. Twice as many Americans (46%) say this about using in vitro fertilization. Asked about the morality of medical research that uses embryonic stem cells, more than a third of U.S. adults (36%) say they do not consider such research to be a moral issue. Roughly four-in-ten (42%) say the same about stem cell research that does not involve human embryos.
The new survey findings show that the percentage of U.S. adults who consider abortion to be morally wrong (49%) far exceeds the percentage that expresses this view about in vitro fertilization (12%), non-embryonic stem cell research (16%) or embryonic stem cell research (22%).
Only 15% of the public thinks that having an abortion is morally acceptable. By comparison, about a third of U.S. adults say they personally view IVF or either form of stem cell research as a morally acceptable practice.
These are among the key findings of a recent nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. The survey was conducted March 21-April 8, 2013, on cellphones and landlines, among a nationally representative sample of 4,006 adults. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Among other key findings:
- Opinions on the morality of abortion differ widely among religious groups. Fully three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants consider having an abortion morally wrong, as do about two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics (64%). A majority of black Protestants (58%) and about half of white Catholics (53%) say the same. Fewer white mainline Protestants (38%) and religiously unaffiliated adults (25%) hold this view. Relatively small percentages of people in all religious groups consider it morally acceptable to have an abortion. However, among the unaffiliated, roughly equal shares say having an abortion is morally acceptable (28%) and morally wrong (25%).
- There are sizable differences in opinions about the moral acceptability of abortion by partisanship, political ideology and education, but few differences when it comes to gender and age. For example, about two-thirds of Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party consider having an abortion morally wrong (64%), compared with 38% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
- Differences of opinion on embryonic stem cell research among religious groups are relatively modest in comparison with attitudes toward abortion. Among the major religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are most likely to say embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong. But there are differences of opinion when it comes to partisanship and ideology. About three-quarters of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party consider embryonic stem cell research to be either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more inclined to consider such research morally wrong.
- Those who say that having an abortion is morally acceptable also are more likely to say that embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable (67%). And those who say that having an abortion is morally wrong also are more inclined to consider embryonic stem cell research to be morally wrong (36% do so). However, a majority of those who think abortion is morally wrong consider embryonic stem cell research to be either morally acceptable (23%) or not a moral issue (29%).
- When asked about the moral acceptability of medical research using stem cells that do not derive from human embryos, the overwhelming majority of adults say that non-embryonic stem cell research is either morally acceptable (33%) or is not a moral issue (42%); only 16% say such research is morally wrong.
- There are only modest differences in opinion among social and demographic groups – including religious groups – about the moral acceptability of IVF. Those with at least a college degree are more inclined to say that using IVF is morally acceptable. But there are no significant differences on this issue by political party, and only modest differences by ideology; more liberals and moderates than conservatives say IVF is not a moral issue.
The full report is available on the website of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. Its Religion & Public Life Project seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs.